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Volunteer Spotlight: Winnie Downes

DownesEMWinnie Downes of Sarasota, Florida, used to travel the world giving talks on how to manage change as executive vice president of a consulting firm in New York City that handled transitions for corporations that were merging or downsizing. That experience, combined with the difficulty of her first husband, Bill’s, death from cancer began to instill in Downes a passion for managing the transition people have at the end of life. “There was no hospice where we lived in Connecticut; I had never even heard of hospice,” Downes recalls from Bill’s illness. “I ran into the fact that doctors, when they can’t cure you, don’t help you to die. Basically three of them said, ‘We can’t do anything more for you.’ I decided through all of that there’s got to be a better way to die in America; there just has to.”

Downes then sought certification from the Elizabeth Kubler-Ross program “Life, Death and Transitions,” and once hospice came to Connecticut, she trained to be a volunteer caregiver. “I started off on what was 16 years in three different hospices. So you take those two things, the volunteer work and the corporate work, and basically the step into Compassion & Choices was a natural build onto those backgrounds,” says Downes. “I got captured by the concept of the civil right of dying the way we want to, which can be from A to Z. You can say, ‘Give me every medical treatment there is; I want to live, and I’ll take it all and I’ll suffer the side effects,’ to the other side, which is where I personally come from, which is that quality of life means much more to me than the quantity of my life.”

So Downes and her husband Carl – or “the C&C saint of Sarasota,” as she calls him – signed on as Action Team leaders last summer and have since given numerous presentations, coordinated events, written newspaper articles and appeared in TV interviews. “The sometimes endless hours of work are fueled by our mutual passion to develop the knowledge of people concerned about end-of-life issues. Compassion & Choices is for everyone!”